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Campus Life

Disney Trip Has Storybook Ending

Magic moment at Disney Imagineering. From left, Kevin Lee, Emily Wise, Mickey Mouse, Chandler Williams and Simon Park.

A team of NC State students designed a traveling theme-park experience featuring some of Disney’s most popular stories to win third place in Walt Disney Imagineering’s 25th Imaginations design competition last month.

The four undergraduates in the College of Design were among 20 students from eight universities who earned a trip to Southern California Jan. 25–29 as finalists in the highly competitive creative challenge.

“We felt like we had a good shot,” says Chandler Williams, a senior in art and design. “As they announced the winners we just stood there holding our breath.”

NC State design students prepare to present their ideas for a traveling theme park experience. Front row: Emily Wise and Kevin Lee. Back row: Chandler Williams and Simon Park. Photos courtesy of Disney.
NC State design students prepare to present their ideas for a traveling theme park experience. Front row: Emily Wise and Kevin Lee. Back row: Chandler Williams and Simon Park. Photos courtesy of Disney.

On their return to campus last week, the students still seemed breathless as they described the whirlwind excursion, which included behind-the-scenes tours of Disney Imagineering’s headquarters and face time with some of the top creative professionals in the entertainment industry. They’re now waiting to learn whether they’ve scored one-year internships at the company — a possible perk of the trip.

“It was magical,” Williams says. “Something we’ll remember forever.”

The team came together last October when industrial design students Emily Wise and Kevin Lee invited Williams, whom they remembered from their first-year studio course, to join them in brainstorming for the competition. She, in turn, contacted fellow art and design student Simon Park.

“We knew we needed someone who could do illustrations, and I knew the guy for the job,” Williams says. “So I asked Simon, and about 30 seconds later he said yes, and that was our team.”

Worlds of Adventure

For this year’s competition, Disney challenged teams to design a traveling experience that could tour small towns across the United States for families who don’t have the opportunity to visit a Disney park. This temporary venue would operate in each community for two to three days, would take no more than a day to set up and break down, and should embody the kind of family entertainment that Walt Disney envisioned when he first built Disneyland.

The NC State team’s entry, “Ostium: An Adventure Behind Every Door,” includes plans, illustrations and a narrative describing an expandable, portable exhibit that uses interactive media and live-action elements to allow guests to step into their favorite worlds, inspired by the Disney and Pixar stories of The Lion King, Frozen, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo.

“Our goal is to transport people into environments and worlds they haven’t been able to experience before,” Wise says. “And to transport them into their imaginations.”

They also worked hard to design an experience that would appeal to families and groups of visitors of different ages. “We want guests to work together for a common cause,” Lee explains. “We want to encourage exploration and interaction.”

Trip of a Lifetime

As finalists, they went head to head against other top teams presenting concepts to an audience of Imagineering judges in California. Preparing for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was grueling.

“In the weeks leading up to the trip, we expanded on our idea twice,” Williams says. “We made up an entire family that went to our park that had their own personalities and back stories. And our ideas for logistics — how we were going to build the parts — changed every week. We had to do an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time.”

But the students had plenty of resources to draw on, including faculty mentor Christian Hölljes, a member of NC State’s innovation and design faculty cluster, who spent 17 years in the San Francisco Bay Area inventing and harnessing groundbreaking technology products. Hölljes helped the students refine their presentation and also suggested they talk with the NC State team that took first place in the 2012 Imaginations competition.

Members of the 2012 team offered practical tips as well as a unique perspective. Above all, they told the students, enjoy the trip.

“They kept telling us, ‘It’s going to be the best week of your life,’” Park remembers. “We said, ‘No, it’s going to be a weeklong interview and we have a lot of pressure and everything is due on one day.’”

Of course, like any Disney story, everything turned out well in the end.

“We went to California with a lot of pressure on our shoulders,” Park says. “But we came back as light as a feather.”